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Hicks, Presley to compete for center-field job

Hicks, Presley to compete for center-field job

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Hicks, Presley to compete for center-field job

MINNEAPOLIS -- When analyzing their organization last offseason, the Twins believed that center field was a position of great depth.

They had two quality big league center fielders on their roster in Denard Span and Ben Revere, as well as top prospects Aaron Hicks and Byron Buxton waiting in the wings. Hicks appeared primed to take over despite finishing the year at Double-A New Britain, with Buxton highly regarded but years away from the Majors.

The Twins decided to trade both Span and Revere in exchange for their greatest need -- starting pitching -- and came away with top prospect Alex Meyer from the Nationals for Span and right-handers Vance Worley and Trevor May from the Phillies for Revere.

Hicks followed with a breakout performance in Spring Training, and it earned him the nod as the Opening Day center fielder despite the fact that he never played at Triple-A. But it didn't work out to plan, as Hicks struggled during his time in the Majors. He was sent to Triple-A Rochester in August and didn't return as a September callup.

"Obviously, the Hicks situation didn't work out," general manager Terry Ryan said at the end of the season. "He was one of our best players in the Minor Leagues. But when you start exposing young players to any Major League operation, you better be prepared to have some struggles."

Hicks' struggles led to the Twins acquiring center fielder Alex Presley from the Pirates in the Aug. 31 trade that sent Justin Morneau to Pittsburgh, a move that added even more depth to the position heading into next season.

So the Twins will now head to Spring Training with Presley and Hicks competing for the job in center field, with Buxton, now the game's No. 1 overall prospect as ranked by MLB.com, primed to take over as soon as 2015.

Presley, who hit .283/.336/.363 with one homer, four doubles and one stolen base in 28 games after the trade, is considered the favorite, as Hicks will likely head back to Triple-A for more seasoning. The Twins also have Darin Mastroianni on the roster to add depth at all three outfield positions.

"I was happy, for the most part, with the way I played," Presley said. "I wish we could have played better as a group and won some more games, obviously. But I think I proved I can play in this league, and I'm looking forward to next year. It's a clean slate for everybody."

But the Twins remain optimistic about Hicks, even though he hit .192/.259/.338 with eight homers, 11 doubles and nine stolen bases in 81 games. He's still just 24 years old, and he showed flashes of what made him such a highly regarded prospect, especially with the glove.

"There's no doubt he can play up here defensively," Ryan said. "Now we just have to get the other half. That's usually the toughest part. He'll be all right. He's got a good work ethic."

Hicks has much to prove, especially with Buxton on the radar, as he has wowed in the Minor Leagues. Buxton is considered Minnesota's center fielder of the future, and he has been compared with such superstars as Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen. But he finished last season at Class A Advanced Fort Myers and isn't likely to be ready until 2015.

So in the meantime, the Twins want to see what they have in Hicks, still a prospect despite his struggles, and who could be moved to the corner outfield because of Buxton.

"[Hicks is] very anxious to make a turnaround on what happened here this year," Ryan said. "There's no doubt. He doesn't feel good about what happened up here, but it happens with young players."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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